One thing about eBooks is they’re relatively cheap, enabling one to read a greater volume of books for one’s proverbial dollar. (Or rather, the proverbial $2.99) This I have rediscovered while enjoying the amazing selection on Smashwords – all sorts of fun genres, which I am setting myself to read and honestly review. (Being a naturally positive person, I haven’t yet left anything less than 3 stars, which I think is the bare minimum of respect for someone’s hard work.) However, reading work from a variety of authors, both self-published and traditionally published, has reminded me that writing is truly a craft. No matter how interesting your concept, how engaging the characters, or how dirty your erotic fantasy, you have to write well!
What this means to me is an author must, first and foremost, be a writer. There is no excuse for lazy writing. If it sounds like the story you wrote in high school, I guarantee you it is bad. If you find yourself reusing the same words or sentence structure, it is also bad. And please, please don’t end every sentence in a preposition. I could go on, but there’s really no need to. (Curious about how to write and edit well? Check out these fabulous guidelines from eXcessica! They also publish hot erotica. Worth a visit!) Basically I feel frustration as a reader when I find great ideas – and published stories – that are not good writing. It bums me out.
Here’s the deal: self-publishing is a rather arrogant business. In this world, you’d better be able to walk your talk. That includes knowing how to write well. Join writers’ groups. Read your work out loud. Take a creative writing class. There are plenty of possibilities. Just have full confidence that you are a writer, before you decide to be a published author.
Of course, the absolute best way to get better at writing is to read. And don’t read crap; read great writing. (Having chugged through more than my fair share of New York Times bestsellers, I can say that generally speaking, these are not the world’s best writing. With a few notable exceptions, of course. Mostly, leave those on the shelf.) Go in search of authors known for their craft. Study it; read as a writer – take note of perfect turns of phrase, masterful characterizations, story structure. Write these down somewhere, so you can be reminded. Compare your work to that of these masters, and be honest with yourself. The best writers are voracious readers, and they read excellent books. I love finding unknown authors, rediscovering treasured classics, and losing myself in a perfectly written page. Reading books like these makes me a better writer.
Long ago (like, when I was a teenager; THAT long ago) I went to a talk by one of my favorite YA authors, Tamora Pierce. She had lots of great advice for me. (Read more of it here, on my previous post about keeping your day job) My friend loved her first series, the Alanna books, the best, so she eagerly listened to Tamara’s response to someone’s question: “Which is your favorite book that you wrote?” Tamara quite ruthlessly said her favorite book is always the one most recently published, thus crushing my friend’s hopes. However, Tamara went on to explain that she always preferred her latest book because she is constantly working to improve her craft. Each new book represents years of hard work, grueling days of editing, striving to perfect, improve, and grow. This makes total sense to me now. My latest story must be my favorite – though I’ll always have a soft spot for certain older works – because the newest work represents my growth as a writer.
Working together, fellow self-published authors, we must raise the bar. No more lazy writing! Work the craft; hone it. Make each new story your best yet. Reread, go back, edit, make changes. We can – and we must – produce work we can be truly proud of. We owe it to our readers, and to ourselves as well.